Political change in Kosovo has stoked hopes among the diaspora in Switzerland that things are finally going to improve in one of Europe’s poorest countries. But there are legal problems in the way.This content was published on July 26, 2021 – 09:10July 26, 2021 – 09:10Julie HuntOther languages: 3 (EN original)
The socialist party at the helm in the Balkan state won the February 2021 election largely thanks to diaspora votes. The online diaspora magazine “lecanton27.ch” estimated that more than 10,000 Kosovars from Switzerland travelled to Kosovo to participate in the election that brought Albin Kurti’s Vetëvendosje, party to power. The US-based non-profit National Democratic Institute reportedExternal link that the election was considered free and fair by international standards, and a record number of votes came from the diaspora, largely in support of Vetëvendosje,
It’s estimatedExternal link that 200,000 Kosovo Albanians live in Switzerland, making up the fifth largest group of foreigners in the alpine country. They offer not only political but also financial assistance to their homeland. Remittances from Kosovars in Germany, Switzerland and the Nordic countries make up about 11.5% of Kosovo’s GDP. More than a fifth of total contributions come from Switzerland alone, according to the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation. Before Covid struck, thousands used to make annual pilgrimages back home to visit friends and families. SWI swissinfo.ch made a film about these home visits and the diaspora link in 2019.
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Kosovars abroad are also close observers of the Balkan country’s attempts to reform, especially after having helped to vote in Vetevendosje. In April 2021, a new president was appointed, the charismatic reformist Vjosa Osmani. Ex-President Hashim Thaci vacated the post in November 2020 after being charged with war crimes. Osmani, a trained lawyer, and Vetëvendosje, seem intent on shaking up the mostly patriarchal Balkan country and heralding in a new spirit of professionalism. Swiss Kosovars want to be part of that wave, but what’s stopping them?
Concrete solutions needed
The hurdles became clear at an online conference in June organised by the left-wing Swiss Social Democrats, which shares Vetëvendosje’s political outlook. The idea of the conference came from the “SP Migrants” group, which has its own secretariat and budget within the Social Democrat party, and which counts many Kosovar members. This organisationExternal link was initiated ten years ago by Peter Hug and Osman Osmani, a former SP councillor in Schaffhausen who is now president of ProintegraExternal link, a Swiss centre for Albanian speakers. Osman Osmani was the first ethnic Albanian to be elected a cantonal councillor in Switzerland. At the conference, participants outlined the sticking points for Kosovars in Switzerland who have been sending back remittances but want to channel help in a more formal way.
One problem is that it is expensive to send money home, but help is on the way. The Swiss government has a programme to reduce the cost of sending remittances to Kosovo and to increase the amount of remittances operated through formal channels. They want to extend basic financial services to formerly “unbanked” populations. This is part of the Remittances and Payment Program (RPP), funded by Switzerland’s State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (Seco) and implemented by the World Bank.
Helping to boost employment
According to a 2019 Labour Force Survey External linkby the Kosovo government, 60% of the working age population (15-64) are said to be “inactive”. Nearly half of 15 to 24-year-olds are unemployed, and joblessness is higher among young females (62.9 %) than young males (42.9%).
MoreTrying to make Kosovo workThis content was published on Aug 17, 2016Switzerland is one of the countries trying to help create jobs in Kosovo and stop people leaving in droves in search of better lives abroad.
Osman Osmani says the diaspora can help to develop Kosovo’s businesses and boost training. He is urging the new Kosovo government to provide the legal and institutional framework for the diaspora to effectively contribute. Deputy foreign minister Liza Gashi, who was also present at the Social Democrat’s conference, said this was something her government was working on. As a co-founder of the diaspora organisation GerminExternal link, Liza Gashi is well aware of the potential of harnessing resources from Kosovars living abroad.
Peter Hug from the Social Democrats said, “Our goal is to anchor the contribution of the diaspora in the new Swiss cooperation programme with Kosovo 2022-2025, currently being drafted.” The SDC, the Swiss government’s development arm, issued a statement saying, “It is important to primarily involve local actors from civil society as well as government agencies to reach sustainable solutions. In this regard, SDC pursues an inclusive approach, i.e. creating equal framework conditions for all actors – including for the various diaspora organisations”.
Swiss-based lawyer Lirim Begzati, a human rights lawyer in canton Neuchâtel, also gave an address at the conference. He agrees that coherent cooperation is lacking. He says a legal framework for intervention is necessary and advocates the creation of commissions and working groups that will find out the real needs and expectations of the diaspora.
Osman Osmani believes members of the diaspora have a lot of useful information to share. “We have learned so much in Switzerland about how the administration works, as well as education, legal systems, social partnerships, health care, the welfare state, public services and politics,” Osmani said. “It’s know-how that we would like to pass on to our country of origin.”